Is It Safe to Buy Prescription Drugs From a Mexican Pharmacy?

Legality and Limits of Bringing Medications Into the U.S.

Mexican pharmacies offer prescription medications at lower prices than pharmacies in the United States. The price difference is so great that some Americans travel to Mexico to take advantage of the savings. In addition, some prescription medications in the U.S. are sold over the counter in Mexico.

As more and more Americans struggle to cover the cost of prescription medications, a trip to Mexico is an attractive solution, especially for those who live along the southern border.

This article discusses how to use a Mexican pharmacy. It also explains the legality of buying medications in Mexico and the rules regarding crossing the border with pharmaceuticals. Please note that the rules often change without notice, so it's important to stay informed.

An older woman reading instructions for medicine
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Are Prescriptions From Mexican Pharmacies Legal?

You can bring prescription medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from Mexico into the United States for personal use. But there is a limit. In general, you may bring up to 50 dosage units into the U.S. without a prescription.

You must state, in writing, that the medication is for your personal use.

You will need a prescription from a licensed U.S. physician to bring more than 50 dosage units across the border. And here is a key point: A prescription from a Mexican doctor is no longer acceptable.

In addition, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may prohibit a supply for more than 60 to 90 days.

All medications must be declared upon arrival at the border. And they must be in their original containers. Medications that are not approved by the FDA may not be allowed. Note that it is illegal to fail to declare imported medications with CBP agents properly.

When Is It Legal to Import Drugs?

The FDA prohibits the importation of "unapproved new drugs" for the purpose of distribution and sale.

This category includes any drugs failing to meet FDA safety and effectiveness standards. This also includes foreign-made versions of U.S.-approved drugs. These are the drugs that are often cheaper than those in the U.S.

The rules may be relaxed under certain conditions, including:

  1. It is an over-the-counter (OTC) product that is not for a serious condition, and there is no known significant health risk; or
  2. It is a prescription product for a serious condition.
  3. An effective treatment may be unavailable in the U.S.
  4. The product does not represent an unreasonable risk.
  5. The individual (patient) does the following: pledges in writing that the medication is for their own use (and generally for no longer than three months); provides the name and address of the U.S.-licensed doctor responsible for their treatment with the product; or offers evidence that the product is for the continuation of a treatment begun in a foreign country.

This does not mean that the FDA will allow individuals to import medications from Mexico at will. It does, however, give law-abiding Americans some options if they can't get or can't afford medications in the U.S.

Stay Up to Date on Requirements

The CBP website provides an updated list of prohibited and restricted items. The FDA also has a guide for the importation of drugs originally intended for foreign markets. Be aware that the rules the CBP agents follow change often and without notice, so it's important to contact the CBP (1-877-227-5511) for timely information. If you're flying, contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ask about requirements.

Risk of Importing Prescription Medication

Imported drugs from a Mexican pharmacy can carry some serious risks. The FDA is only responsible for drugs marketed and sold in the U.S., so there is no guarantee or monitoring of drug purity, safety, or quality.

This is especially true with drugs that are available only by prescription in the United States but sold over the counter in Mexico.

Safety risks of importing medications can include:

  • Contamination or presence of harmful substances
  • Counterfeit versions that do not contain what is claimed
  • Expired medications that are less effective
  • Inconsistent potency
  • Use of ingredients that are untested or banned in the U.S.
  • Potential for unsupervised use of the medication
  • Labeling and language issues
  • Lack of information related to side effects

Required Documentation

Always check with the CBP for updated requirements. Customs officials will generally want a letter stating that the drug from a Mexican pharmacy is intended for personal use to treat a serious medical condition. You will also need to provide information about the doctor treating you or proof that you are continuing treatment started in another country.

The medication should be in its original container with a doctor's instructions printed on the bottle.


There are limits to bringing prescriptions purchased at a Mexican pharmacy into the United States. You may do so if you have a severe medical condition, there are no effective treatments available in the U.S., and the drug does not pose any unreasonable risks.

Even then, there are limits. For example, you will be limited to a three-month supply.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food & Drug Administration. CFR—code of federal regulations Title 21.

  2. Food & Drug Administration. Personal importation.

  3. Customs and Border Protection. Prohibited and restricted items.

  4. Food and Drug Administration. Imported drugs raise safety concerns.

  5. Food and Drug Administration. 5 tips for traveling to the U.S. with medications.

By Marian Anne Eure
Marian Eure, RN, is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in adult health care, health promotion, and health education.